A Perfectly Organized Edit
Episode #10 of the course Ten editing techniques to perfect your fiction writing by K.C. Finn
Today, we’ll consolidate every technique from the course and organize them all into simple stages that you can follow with any editing project from now on. From the start, you need to remember that you will both lose and gain words from your total, and you’ve got to be prepared to take a long, hard look at your work with a critical eye. So, steel yourself up and let’s get started.
Stage One. This is a whole-book approach, seeking out quick fixes in the digital format of your work. Open your document, and use that Find or Search tool that I’ve mentioned a few times during the course. Use Lesson 2’s list to search for homonyms that you might be using incorrectly, and make any changes as you move through the document searching for them. Using exactly the same search feature, make a second sweep for speech tags, like we did in Lesson 3. Get rid of those tags according to our golden rules! Now, search for keywords like “ly” and “with” to remove adverbs from your work, and replace them with more dynamic descriptions, as we practiced in Lesson 5. Finally, use the deadly verbs list from Lesson 7 to find and destroy those words that cause distance between the reader and the action.
Stage Two. Take my advice from Lesson 1, and have a good, long break before you start Stage Two. Print your work out for this one, one chapter at a time, and in a different font or format to your digital copy. Read your work aloud for typos (check back to Lesson 1 for guidance), and if you find a long, wordy section where you’re unsure of the grammar, here’s what to do. Go through the practice in Lesson 6, performing your work out loud and recording any sections where you think you might have punctuation to fix. Analyze those recordings and make your changes, one chapter at a time. During this stage, mark the pages of any major conversations that take place.
Stage Three. Now that all the technical fixes are complete, we’ll use our final set of skills to examine flow. Use Lesson 4’s Topic Test to analyze your paragraphs during this last read-through, ensuring that there’s clarity in every one. Take those dialogue scenes you marked out and run them through the script checks from Lesson 8. By now, you’ll have a comprehensive sense of your whole novel, scene by scene, so you can apply Lesson 9 to make any final cuts to purposeless scenes in your newly edited novel!
Following the strategy in this order will present a fully comprehensive edit that focuses on making your writing clean, clear, and oven-ready for publishers.
Congratulations! You just became an agent’s dream client!
Farewell for now, brave editors! I hope you see you on another course of mine sometime soon, and I wish you the best (and most ruthless) editing session ever with the tools you’ve learned here.
‘Till we meet again,
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
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